Monday, December 06, 2004

NEWS: Extension denied, dive operators to be evicted from Sipadan

SIPADAN, Malaysia -- The Government has rejected a request from scuba diving resort operators to be allowed to remain on Sipadan for another year.

The Dec. 31 deadline stays for the five operators to vacate the popular diving spot. The Government will allow only day trips from Jan. 1 next year and limited to 80 visitors. The decision is expected to strengthen the Government's application for the island to be listed as a world heritage site by Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

It was learnt that all five resorts have been fully booked till Dec. 31 even four months in advance, as this is the last chance for people to stay overnight on the island.

It was learnt that the five dive operators had, through their lawyers, asked for the extension in September, citing the need for more time to relocate.

The lawyers had met the authorities twice to discuss the request.

The committee set up to oversee the matter is jointly headed by Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Samsuddin Osman and State Secretary Datuk K.Y. Mustafa.

The National Security Division in the Prime Minister's Deparment, through the State Secretary's office, issued the notices to vacate late last year.

The five operators on the island are Borneo Divers, Sipadan Dive Centre, Pulau Sipadan Resort, Abdillah Sipadan Paradise and Sipadan Lodge.

Sipadan, listed among the world's top 10 diving destinations, is also a nesting spot for turtles and a transit point for migratory birds.

State National Security Division Deputy Director Abdullah Daud said the dive operators must demolish all the structures they own on the island.

"Ample time had been given to them and we will make a spot check on the island next month," he said when contacted.

However, the security post on the island will remain, and the requirement for all visitors to fill out a security form would continue.

The island was a subject of dispute between Malaysia and Indonesia until the International Court of Justice ruled on Dec 17, 2002 that the island belonged to Malaysia.

At least one of the five dive operators intends to stay open until the end of the year. November and December are peak periods.

The dive operators may relocate to the nearby islands of Mabul and Kapalai, half an hour from Sipadan.

SOURCE: Daily Express